Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Bonus: A Visit with Henry

 I originally wrote this to amuse myself (and Rhonda Jones, Henry's biggest fan), but I can't resist sharing it here as well, as a little stocking stuffer for anyone who's read and enjoyed Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator. Enjoy this little holiday visit with the ghostly custodian Violet originally encountered in Spookygirl's first chapter.

A Visit with Henry ('Twas the Night Before Christmas)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the school
Not a spirit was stirring, no ghost and no ghoul.
I walked past the mural displayed in the hall –
A misshapen Trojan assured to appall.

The tiles underfoot were in need of a clean,
A layer of grime over yellow and green.
The trophy case covered in handprints unclear,
Obscuring its contents (so lame yet so dear).

My Gothlings stayed close, all poised for a spectre,
With cameras, recorders, an EMF detector.
The numbers went crazy, gone right off the scale!
And the air here grew colder with each sharp inhale.

When down near the gym there arose such a fuss –
A grumpy old voice, a gripe and a cuss –
I shouldered my bag – a comforting weight –
And headed on down to investigate.

As I approached, I soon caught the sight
Of a grouchy old phantom who worked through the night
Just cleaning and mopping and scrubbing the place
With lead in his step and a scowl on his face. 

"Missy!" he said when he saw me so near. 
"Look at these smudges of dirt – right down here." 
He pointed and snarled at a place on the floor. 
"Did you track that in when you walked through the door?" 

Before I could answer, he tossed me a frown
And went back to mopping the hall, up and down.
'Twas the very same job he’d done all his life
(And he still did it now to avoid his dead wife).

Oh, how he worked! And oh, how he tried!
It was never an issue before he had died –
But now that had changed. Though he put in the time,
A ghost can’t do much against flesh-and-blood grime. 

"Henry," I said, "I've brought you some aid.
I'm here to be Palmetto High's merry maid.
It's the night before Christmas, you silly old dude,
So quit your complaining. No need to be rude." 

With that we brought forth the supplies we'd amassed –
My friends and I cleaned, and we did it all fast.
We polished the trophy case, swept up the floor,
And sent all the dirt right back out the front door.

The hallway, it sparkled, so overly clean,
Even ol' Henry couldn’t bear to be mean.
He surveyed the place, and he let out a sigh,
And hurriedly blinked a stray tear from his eye.

"Missy," he said, "this I wasn't expecting.
I thought you were just here for spirit detecting.
Can't clean like I used to, which makes me quite blue.
It pains me to say it, but . . . Thanks. All of you."

"No problem," I said, suppressing a scoff. 
 "Just have a good evening. Enjoy your night off." 
And I heard Henry say as he faded from sight, 
"Spooky Christmas to all, and to all a good night."


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone! And of course, it wouldn't be a properly spooky Christmas without some creepy decorations, so here are a few of my favorites:


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween: I Win

My friend Dava sent me what just might be the coolest Halloween decoration ever:

(Totally worthy of capslock.)

He might just have to be a part of the year-round decor. I'll get him a scarf and a teeny Santa hat for Christmas. Because, you know... It's not a proper Christmas without at least one zombie, right?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Busy Days are Here

Can't believe Halloween's already less than a week away! I'd originally planned to be Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, but then I got lazy and ended up as a witch instead. Here I am on my way to my friends' Halloween party last weekend.

Early this month I finished a pretty major revision of my current work-in-progress, Underbed. It's now back with my agent. We decided to make it a middle grade project rather than YA, and I think the change suits it well.

And of course, NaNoWriMo is only a few more days away! I'm all set to start working on a somewhat gritty YA fantasy project called Moth & Moon. Can't wait to spend my afternoons curled up in coffee shops with a mug and my laptop! I'm Fire and Air over on the NaNo site.

Recently I've been interviewed by two blogs, The Book Cellar and YA Librarian Tales, about Spookygirl. Spookygirl is also getting more and more reviews online, including this lovely one by indie author Amy Martin, who was guest-reviewing on YA Reads. Thanks, everyone!

Also, Young Adult Books Central is giving away five copies of Spookygirl! You can enter until Halloween, so stop by and take a chance. That link also includes my guest post about the most haunted house I've ever encountered.

And finally, I just noticed that Spookygirl's Publishers Weekly review has been posted! PW mentions Spookygirl's "straight-talking, level-headed protagonist and smooth storytelling" -- not bad, not bad!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Guest Posts Galore

If I've been quiet here lately, it's because I've been posting elsewhere! Several blogs have graciously hosted Spookygirl-related guest posts -- read on:

For In Bed with Books, I answered my favorite frequently-asked question about Spookygirl. (You can also read In Bed with Books' review of Spookygirl here!)

I shared some information about poltergeists with The Children's Book Review. (Short version: Real-life poltergeists? If they exist, they're not nearly as friendly as Spookygirl's Buster.)

Finally, I wrote a destination post about southwest Florida for Ticket to Anywhere. Although Spookygirl's fictional towns are situated on the state's east coast, they're heavily inspired by Marco Island and Naples on the Gulf of Mexico. I also included some photos, like this one I took of dolphins swimming under the Jolley Bridge that connects Marco to the mainland. (And click here for Ticket to Anywhere's review of Spookygirl!)

Thanks for having me, everyone! It was fun!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Fourteen

[This is part 14 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Here it is! The big one. On Thursday, this happened:

There it was, shelved in Books-A-Million! I held it overhead like it was a boombox and I was John Cusack. I also got reports from all over of other Spookygirl sightings -- other parts of Florida, Georgia, Ohio, New Jersey, and more. My assistant editor found it at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square in NYC.

I spent the day stalking bookstores with my family before a celebration dinner. I also insisted on stopping at Office Depot for a supply of purple pens (since Violet would never stand for her writer signing books in plain ol' black ink).

Sadly, in one store I was nearly as excited to find a stuffed TARDIS as I was to find my own book. The wee TARDIS came home with me. (Come on -- it lights up and goes VWORP VWORP VWORP. I needed it in my life!)

I don't know how to express what it felt like to see my work in a bookstore. As a writer, I should be able to, but it transcends words. It's awesome, but also strangely humbling -- a reminder of how much support and encouragement I was gifted with while I fought to get to this point. I'm so very thankful for all of it.

I'll conclude the "Road to Publication" series with a list of five things you might not know about pub day:

1. If you've ever been a nail biter, you'll relapse. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

2. Have your phone charger with you; all that tweeting and Facebooking and photo-taking (and obsessively peeking at your ever-changing Amazon sales ranking) will kill your battery.

3. Unless you've written a pretty major release, don't expect every store to have your book in stock yet. My agent tipped me off on this one, confirming what I'd already suspected. Sure enough, several branches of Books-A-Million had it in stock, but Barnes & Noble did not, although it's on the way.

4. There is such a thing as Post-Publication Hangover, and it had nothing to do with that lemon drop martini I had at dinner. I was exhausted yesterday!

5. You'll be reminded of just how many people are rooting for you, and that will feel amazing. Okay, so I already kind of said that above. Hey, it's worth repeating.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Spookygirl Giveaway Winners!

Greetings from the Georgia woods, where the trees are green, the spiders are plentiful, the fire spinners get rained out (noooo), and the Internet is slow. I apologize for being a few days late with this.

Congrats to Jolene and Heather for winning ARCs of SPOOKYGIRL: PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR! Check your direct messages on Twitter if you haven't already.

Thanks again to everyone who entered! Believe me, I wish I had enough copies for all of you.

And now we'll see if this entry will post without timing out . . .

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Giveaway Update!

August 1 is winding down (here in the Eastern time zone, anyway), which means the chance to win a Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator ARC is winding down as well. Thank you so much to everyone who entered and helped spread the word!

I've collected all the entries in my trusty little cauldron. If anyone else squeaks in before midnight, I'll add their names to the pot.

My plan is to post the winners early tomorrow morning. I apologize ahead of time if that doesn't happen -- I have an eleven-hour drive ahead of me tomorrow, so I may not have any blogging time before I get on the road. If that happens, I promise I'll make the announcement as soon as I can.

I have the ARCs in my luggage, so they'll ship directly from where I'll be staying in Georgia. The swag will be shipped separately when I'm home -- I had hoped to include everything together, but a few of my print orders haven't come in yet.

Thanks again, everyone!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Giveaway! Win a Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator ARC

It's contest time! Spookygirl's Violet wants to know what spooks you.

Two winners will be chosen at random. The first will receive one of the Spookygirl ARCs sent to me by Penguin/Dutton. The second will receive that Spookygirl ARC I bought on eBay. Both copies will be autographed; I'll be happy to personalize the autographs if the winners request it. I'll also send both winners some of the spooky swag I'm currently designing. (Swag will ship separately because some of it is still being printed.)

There are four ways to enter. Each task counts as one entry, so if you do all four, you'll be entered four times. (You can only win once, though!) I'll ship the ARCs anywhere in the world, so international entries are more than welcome!

Here are the ways to enter:

-Reply to this post and mention something that spooks you. Scary novel, horror movie, phobia -- anything goes! (My personal Big Crazy Fear is clowns. CLOWNS, MAN.)

-Mention the contest on your own blog with a link back to this post. Then leave a comment here with a link to your post so I can keep track of who's done this.

-Like Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator on Facebook and share the status update about the contest on your own wall.

-Follow me on Twitter and retweet my tweet about the contest (or link to this post in one of your own tweets and include the hashtag #Spookygirl).

That's it! The contest will run through August 1, and I'll announce the winners on August 2.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I'm on the eBay!

So you guys . . . I kind of bought myself on eBay.

A few weeks ago I noticed someone had auctioned an ARC of Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator for close to $27. A search brought me to a current auction for another copy of Spookygirl with a Buy It Now price of just over $5, but that auction listed the book as a hardcover.

Huh? Even I didn't have a hardcover in hand at the time. Curious (and egged on by several friends), I BINed the listing.

Instead of a mysteriously premature hardcover, I received what I expected -- an ARC. This is awesome news, because it means I have a spare copy. I've been planning to have a giveaway for an ARC anyway, and now I can have two winners instead of one.

I'll be announcing the details of the giveaway here, on Spookygirl's Facebook page, and on my Twitter really soon, and there'll be several ways to enter, so keep an eye out!

I have to admit -- it was pretty amusing to search for my last name on eBay and actually get a result. And no, I don't think the seller noticed his buyer was also the book's author.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Thirteen

[This is part 13 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

 There it is, guys. Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator in hardcover, all polished and finished and ready to take on the world.

I'd been told the advance hardcover would be arriving this month. When I got a package from Penguin Young Readers Group the other day, I knew what had to be inside. I tore it open right in the middle of the post office parking lot and squealed out loud. (So what if people needed to park? They could wait a minute; I was having a MOMENT.)

I am so, so happy with the finished product, and so grateful to everyone who had a hand in prepping Spookygirl for launch. Just over a month to go!

Back cover text
Dust jacket flap
Underneath the dust jacket, the cover is mint green with metallic purple type.

This is really happening, isn't it? It's really happening.

Other quick updates: I recently launched the bare bones of an author website. I'm also on Twitter now -- @JillBaguchinsky.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Twelve

[This is part 12 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

This week brought a double-header of new experiences.

First, I spoke for the first time with my Penguin publicist. Tara is really friendly and enthusiastic -- she's a fan of ghost-hunting TV shows, so Spookygirl's subject matter is right up her alley. I'm learning all kinds of new info, like the various tiers of media outreach. Tara is also reaching out to local bookstores to set up meetings and signings.

I'll be doing some guest-blogging here and there, so keep an eye out for links to those posts as Spookygirl's release date looms ever closer.

Then I got an email from Dutton letting me know the first trade review for Spookygirl had just come in from Kirkus Reviews. I can't share the full text until it's published publicly in August, but it's a good one. Kirkus calls Spookygirl "a fun ride," which is just... Yay!

Totally made this face after reading the review. SMILES AND RAINBOWS EVERYWHERE.

"A fun ride" -- that pretty much sums up the last year or so!

Monday, June 25, 2012

But can he carry a tune?

A new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby? I was skeptical. It seemed unnecessary.

...Until I learned Baz Luhrmann was directing and co-writing. Um, yes please. I'm on board.

Is it wrong, though, that I sort of wish Baz had gone completely Moulin Rouge with this and made it a musical? Yeah, that's probably wrong. I don't care. Sing, Gatsby! Sing from inside a building shaped like an elephant!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bad Form, Etsy

I've been asked several times whether I'll be selling copies of Spookygirl in my Etsy shop. The unfortunate answer is no, at least not on its own. Here's why.

When I'm not writing, I'm usually wrangling monsters. In other words, I design and hand-sew collectible stuffed monsters and other artisan plush, and I sell my work through my Etsy shop, Mint Conspiracy. I've been a member of Etsy since 2005, and my shop has been active since 2006. I've sold over 3500 items. I have tons of amazing customers, many of whom supported me fiercely during Spookygirl's journey through the 2011 ABNA contest.

As an indie artist, I've always appreciated Etsy's support of artists, craftspeople, and the general concept of handmade. With the exception of the vintage and supplies categories, anything sold on Etsy must be handmade, hand-assembled, or hand-altered by the seller or a defined collective (although production assistance is allowable in certain circumstances). Items that don't fit this definition are supposed to be dealt with by Etsy's Marketplace Integrity team.

I'd love to sell autographed copies of Spookygirl in my shop. I'd even planned on hand-altering them further with some simple artwork and/or including some exclusive handmade swag. Unfortunately, according to Eliza, a member of the Marketplace Integrity team, authors can't sell their books on Etsy unless those books are self-published or craft books. Eliza and I went back and forth on this a few times last week. I argued that selling copies of my own book is comparable to a painter selling commercially-created prints of a painting, which is totally Etsy-legal and cited in the site's rules under production assistance:

A third-party vendor may be used for intermediary tasks in some crafts. Acceptable examples include, but are not limited to: printing the seller's original artwork, metal casting from the seller's original mold, or kiln firing the seller's handcrafted ceramic work.

Eliza was unable (or unwilling) to clarify why having a publisher print copies of a book wouldn't count as production assistance. Yes, the book is technically being mass-produced -- but there's no clarification in the production assistance guidelines as to how many copies of a work can be created.

Keep in mind that Etsy considers a commercially-made pendant strung on a commercially-made chain to be a "hand-assembled necklace." That's Etsy-legal. Spookygirl isn't. I'm not trying to bash sellers of hand-assembled necklaces -- I design a lot of my own jewelry, so I know what goes into the assembly process. But I can't see how the time and effort I've put into writing, rewriting, and revising Spookygirl over more than four years makes it any less hand-crafted than a beaded necklace or a knitted scarf or an oil painting. I'm just very, very lucky in that I have some snazzy production assistance.

There are ways around this rule, including a solution suggested by one of my brilliant customers that I'll most likely be implementing. However, I shouldn't have to do that. I shouldn't have to search for loopholes. Writing is very much a craft, and seeing it disrespected by a site that claims to support craftspeople and artists (a site that I've supported for years with my listing and selling fees) is disappointing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012 ABNA Winners!

Congratulations to Alan Averill and Regina Sirois, winners of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Get ready to learn alllllll about the publishing industry, you two. It's quite an education. And I mean that in a good way.

Averill's The Beautiful Land and Sirois' On Little Wings are available for preorder on Amazon, naturally.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Eleven

[This is part 11 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

I'm home! Spent a lot longer in Augusta than originally planned, then stopped by Tallahassee on the way home to visit my brother for a few days.

While I was in Georgia, I experienced one of my favorite publication moments so far: I officially shared Spookygirl's dedication page with the recipient of that dedication. I've daydreamed about, written, edited, and nitpicked various versions of that little inscription for years, trying to decide who it would go to and why. In the end, I dedicated Spookygirl to one of my dearest, bestest friends:

Rhonda's been my personal writing support group for more than ten years. If I hadn't met her when I did, I'm not sure I'd still be writing, and I certainly wouldn't have a second family in Georgia. And she and I do know spooky -- we've communed with each other's characters, chased mysterious fairy-lights through dark forests, investigated middle-of-the-night noises, and shopped for voodoo wares. And that was just in the past month. We've also hugged a haunted pillar and lived to tell the tale. 

Once we tried to use a Ouija board, but the planchette just kept meandering off the board in the same spot without pointing to anything. Either spooky things are more afraid of us than we are of them, or the entity we contacted had gotten into the wine. 

For those of you who are non-geeks, the Time Lady bit is a Doctor Who reference.

I'll be in Florida when Spookygirl is released, so I was really happy to be able to take an ARC with me on this trip and be there in person when Rhonda saw the dedication page. There was much squealing and jumping up and down. 

In other publication news, last week I submitted a bunch of publicity-related info to Dutton, and now I'm waiting to be put in contact with Spookygirl's official publicist. Time to really get the ball rolling!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Congrats 2012 ABNA Finalists!

Ginormous congratulations to the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards finalists!

General Fiction Finalists:
Alan Averill, The Beautiful Land
Charles Kelly, Grace Humiston and the Vanishing
Brian Reeves, A Chant of Love and Lamentation

Young Adult Fiction Finalists:
Cassandra Griffin, Dreamcatchers
Rebecca Phillips, Out of Nowhere
Regina Sirois, On Little Wings

Have fun, you guys. Win or lose, you're all in for quite a ride over the next few weeks. It'll be nerve-wracking and amazing and awesome, I promise. To get through it, I recommend positive thoughts, deep breathing exercises, and probably wine. That was what worked for me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm Alive!

I've gone quiet again, I know, and I owe you posts about agents and other things. At the moment I'm staying with my Georgia friends in their new home in the middle of an enchanted forest, and it turns out that Internet access is a little spotty in magical places. Can't say I've missed my usual online time much when there are woods like these to play in, though:

This place was gorgeous even before I Instagrammed the heck out of it, I promise.

I didn't mean to be gone this long . . . but I don't want to leave yet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Ten

[This is part 10 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

I promised a biggie, didn't I? How's this?

ARCs have landed! Or galleys, or proofs, or whatever you prefer to call them. I AM HOLDING MY BOOK IN MY HANDS. It's really, really gorgeous in person; I couldn't be more pleased.

When I picked up the package from the post office, I had to sit in my car in the parking lot for a good ten minutes before I stopped shaking enough to drive. I only got a few copies, but when we're a little closer to the release date, I'm hoping to hold a giveaway for one. Keep an eye out!

You know, it was just last April that I blogged about winning an ARC of Small Persons with Wings. I never imagined that, a year later, I'd take a similar photo holding my very own book.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Nine

[This is part 9 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Ooh, ooh! The mail brought me an excuse for a new progress post.

This is the Fall 2012 catalog for Penguin Young Readers Group:

(What a marvelous moose!)

And this is pg. 37 of the catalog:

Squee!! I happen to think pg. 37 is the best page of the whole thing, but I might just be a little bit biased. Just a little bit. Tiny little bit.

The catalog itself is 364 pages. I find that both wonderful (the world can never have too many books!) and sobering (because I'd like my book to stand out from the crowd, and that's quite a crowd, and that's just the Young Readers division of one publisher).

If you're interested, you can browse PDFs of Penguin's various catalogs here

I should have another progress post up soon. It's a biggie. *tents fingers*

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On Agents: Part One

I've gotten a couple of questions lately about literary agents, so I figured now would be a good time to write a few posts about my experiences with the Great Agent Hunt. Those of you currently looking for an agent have my respect and sympathy -- it's not an easy game to play. I spent my time down in the trenches, believe me.

Late last year I signed with Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. Danielle is awesome; it's because of her enthusiasm that I finished the Underbed draft as soon as I did.

Believe it or not, winning the ABNA contest and having a contract with a Penguin imprint doesn't guarantee you'll have agents groveling at your feet. (Actually, I'm pretty sure groveling isn't in their DNA.) I did hear from a few after the 2011 finalists were announced, and I queried a few more, including two who had already rejected Spookygirl. Danielle was one of those -- back in 2009 she turned it down because she had a client with a similar project. She did, however, compliment the partial she read, calling Violet "very real and likeable." Her rejection was one of the nicest I received, and I requeried her last year in case circumstances had changed. They had.

But landing an agent when you're already under contract is trickier than it sounds. The sale's already been made, so there's no commission there. An interested agent is betting on two things: related rights and future books. I knew I needed representation for the former, as I was starting to get questions from production companies about Spookygirl's film rights. And of course, I wanted to find an agent who would look beyond my first contract and help me shape my career. Danielle and I discussed that during a great phone conversation; I guess she liked what she heard, because she made an offer of representation that I gladly accepted.

That's where my Great Agent Hunt ended, after nearly ten years and close to one hundred rejections. I'll go into more detail on all that in future posts -- I can share tips, admit to some of the awful mistakes I made, and mutter under my breath about a few of my not-so-great query experiences (without naming names, of course!). If there's anything else you'd like me to cover, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Congrats and a Shout-Out

Congratulations to the quarterfinalists in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards! I know it's hard, but try not to let the suspense keep you up at night while you wait for next month's semifinals...

In other ABNA news, be sure to visit Gregory Hill's website for more information about East of Denver, the 2011 ABNA General Fiction winner. East of Denver comes out July 5, and I can't wait to read it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Monster of a Manuscript

I'll continue my series about ABNA and Spookygirl as soon as I have more news! Meanwhile...

Why is it that a brilliant editing brainstorm is always bound to hit right after you've submitted a manuscript? You can pick at a project for weeks, but as soon as you send it off somewhere, BAM, that's when you realize how you can make it even better.

Or maybe that's just me. I sent off the current draft of Underbed to my agent, and minutes later the ideas began to hit -- a way to restructure and strengthen the climax, a detail that will tighten Jeremy Serpent's connection to one of his enemies, etc.. Oh well. I'll be revising again soon enough; those things can happen then.

I'm not sure how I feel about Underbed. The concept's been lurking in my head since last year; I originally meant to write it during last year's NaNoWriMo, but November was taken up by Spookygirl revisions and holiday monster sales. So I took the idea -- a teenage girl revisits the childhood nightmares that still lurk under her bed -- and filed it away for later.

I finally wrote the first Underbed draft during the last three weeks in January. I revised it while I was out of town in February. That's the fastest I've ever churned out a revised draft, and it's still too fresh in my mind for me to be objective. I always go through an UGH IT'S TERRIBLE TAKE IT AWAY phase with new projects, and I'm still there with this one. Still, some of its details make me smile, and at least I finally found a story for Serpent. (He's been waiting for six or eight years. He's shown extraordinary patience for a monster.) So maybe there's so merit in the mess. We'll see.

Now it's time to let it simmer, wait for feedback, and tackle more of my own monsters in the meantime.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Eight

[This is part 8 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Back in part five of this series, I mentioned I expected to see Spookygirl's final cover design soon. Dutton totally delivered. All I knew was that the final version would be close to the placeholder design, but with changes to the necklace and the title. Let's check them out side by side:
Placeholder on the left, final version on the right

I seriously love the final design. The pendent is Violet's favorite color now, which makes a lot more sense than the random green stone. I adore the changes to my name -- font, color, placement, everything. I also like the slightly warmer tones, especially in Violet's hair.

(If we were going for total story accuracy, Violet's necklace would be black tourmaline, and her hair would be black. However, that would result in an awful lot of uniform darkness. The splash of purple is more eye-catching.)

Overall, this design captures the book just about perfectly. The story is dark in places; it deals with supernatural themes and the loss of a family member, so the overall darkness of the cover and the ominous stormclouds behind Violet are appropriate. But we also have Violet's trademark smirk front and center, which is a great representation of the narrative's tone and attitude.

...Can you tell I'm pretty thrilled about this cover?

In addition to the final cover design, I also got a copy of the galley PDF, which I had a week to review. Last I heard, the galley was supposed to go to print at the end of last week. Here's hoping that means I'll have a copy in my hands soon.

So, hey -- what are your thoughts on book covers? Do you have a favorite cover? If you've written a book, what would your ideal cover look like?  Does it drive you nuts when the cover doesn't match the story? Have you ever *gasp* judged a book by its cover?

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Seven

[This is part 7 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

In addition to the revisions, I had a few final details to take care of recently. For one thing, I had to sort out my dedication and acknowledgments. Sounds simple, I guess. Right?

Hah. Writing the acknowledgments may have been more stressful than writing the book. I forgot people. I’m sure of it. Here’s hoping they forgive me.

(From now on I should just keep a running tally for each new manuscript. “Memo to self: Don’t forget to thank X for Y.”)

The dedication was easier. I haven’t revealed it to anyone yet, so I’ll probably wait to blog about it until the book’s out.

I also needed to update my author photo. Although I liked my contest headshot, it was a rush job – I needed a photo right away for the final ABNA round, so my dad took this one in his front yard: 

For my final headshot I wanted something more polished, so I considered hiring a professional photographer. In the end, though, I recruited Rhonda Jones, one of my closest friends (and fellow haunted pillar hugger), while I was visiting her in Georgia. We wandered downtown Augusta, taking pics here and there. One shot taken near the New Moon Café came out just about perfect:

 I’m not sure I can express how much I love this photo (which is an odd thing, since I’m not usually a big fan of pics of myself). It’s just what I wanted. The fact that it was taken by such a good friend in a city that’s come to mean a lot to me makes it even more special. 

(Yep. Purple hair. That's my lucky streak.)

Up next: Final cover design!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Six

Sinuses, man. ANYWAY.

[This is part 6 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.] 

One thing I quickly learned about editing: Every time you think you’re done, there’ll be one more suggestion to act on, one more alternative to consider, one more change to okay.

After working with Julie Strauss-Gabel on the initial major revision of Spookygirl, I worked with Liza Kaplan to clean up the details and get things polished. After a few more minor revisions (mostly involving the locker room storyline), we moved on to the line edit.

I had no idea what to expect from that, but the process was kind of fascinating. After Liza sent me a copy of the manuscript with lots and lots of notations about minor changes and small suggestions (usually several per page), I quickly learned how to use the Track Changes feature in Word. I approved, declined, or acted on each detail as necessary. Most pages weren't nearly as marked up as that screencap up there, but that gives you an idea of the process. Every change -- even the addition of a comma or the correction of a spelling error -- got its own notation.

So we got through all that. Then we did it all again. Oh yes.

Then came the copyedit (done by Rosanne Lauer), which was essentially more of the same, only on an even more detail-oriented level.

You know how, if you repeat a word over and over, eventually it sounds like nonsense in your head? Imagine going through your entire manuscript over and over until your story feels just like that.

Again, everything we did made the final story stronger, and that’s a great thing to realize. The only times Liza and I butted heads were over tiny things like keeping a line about a character's t-shirt, or whether Dutton's preferred style guide required us to spell out longer numbers in dialogue.

(Oh, that t-shirt. That could be another blog entry all on its own. I wasn't about to lose Peter's favorite geeky tee.)

Up next: Dedication, acknowledgments, author photo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Home again. Unfortunately, I brought some sinus issues back with me and temporarily left my voice in Georgia. (Pretty sure it's under Rhonda's couch.) I'll continue the road to publication posts in just a few days.

In the meantime, congrats and best of luck to everyone who made it through to the second round in the 2012 ABNA Contest!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Eight-Legged Company

I've been visiting friends in Georgia for several weeks, and tomorrow I'm heading home to Florida. While I've been here, I've been working on a new manuscript, known for now as the Underbed project. I'm currently revising the (very) rough draft. I've been describing it as Alice in Wonderland meets How to Train Your Dragon, but it's evolved a bit beyond that concept. More on Underbed soon.

One of my Underbed characters, Sling, is a girl with an...affinity for spiders. It seems fitting that my friend's tarantulas, Tiny and Slippers, have been my writing buddies while I've been here. That's Tiny in the pic.

Tiny and Slippers also kept me company (always from the safe confines of their cages) while I was revising Spookygirl here last summer. Should Spookygirl become a series, I have plans for a Tiny cameo in a future installment.

And now I need to pack. And pout. I like it here. Not at all ready to go.

The Road to Publication: Part Five

[This is part 5 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.] 

If there's one thing a writer dreads hearing from a publisher, it's probably this: "We should consider changing the title." 

OH NOES. Really? But it's my baby's name! It's perfect! 

Nah, I was expecting it. I've read enough about other writers' experiences to know how common title changes are. You may think your title is a glowing example of literary perfection, but you're probably not as experienced with book marketing as your publisher. What you really want is a title that sells your book.

Julie was concerned about Spookygirl because it's a name used by other characters to tease Violet. I countered that Violet kind of likes the name. Instead of letting it insult her, she steps up and owns it. Julie also wanted the title to focus more on Violet's paranormal communication and investigation abilities. If we stuck with Spookygirl, we'd need to add something to it. 

One thing we considered was using some version of the first chapter's title: Death, High School, and Other Necessary Evils. I liked that as a chapter title, but as a book title it seemed a little long and clunky. Other variations we tossed around included: 

Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator 
Spookygirl: Ghost Hunter 
Spookygirl: R.I.P.
Spookygirl: Death and High School 
Death and High School (and Other Necessary Evils) 
I'll Talk to You When You're Dead 
I'll Talk to You When You're Dead (Maybe) 

We finally settled on Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator. It felt like a nice compromise all around – the focus on paranormal investigation was there, but I got to keep Spookygirl. The final cover design (which I expect I'll see sometime soon, yay!) will reflect the updated title. 

Wouldn't mind using I'll Talk to You When You're Dead (Maybe) for another book in the future, though . . .

Up next: The devil's in the details.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Anxiety Priorities

Spent yesterday evening at a downtown Augusta bar with some friends. It was karaoke night.

I sang.

It was terrifying. I was more nervous last night than I was at the awards breakfast last June.

There's probably something wrong with that. Anxiety priorities, anyone? My issues with stage fright go all the way back to a botched solo during a fourth grade play, so getting up on stage and making it all the way through a song . . .

Yeah, I'm pretty pleased with myself today.

I don't know how well I did, but at least I'm pretty sure my performance topped Bridget Jones's. However, I wouldn't mind a pair of sparkly tinsel antennae like hers to wear during my next number.  Because yeah, I might just do it again sometime. Someone hide the Journey tracks before I can get to 'em!

(No, I didn't bust out with "Don't Stop Believing" last night. I sang Train's "Hey, Soul Sister.")

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Four

[This is part 4 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Here’s an odd thing: I have a book coming out in a few months, yet I’m still not entirely sure how traditional publishing typically works. The ABNA timeline forces things to progress at a faster pace. Had I gotten my contract the normal way, I'd probably be looking at a 2013 release date instead of August 2012.

Not that I’m complaining. I’d much rather see Spookygirl on shelves this year than next.

A few days after I got home from Seattle, I had my first official phone conversation with the VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel. My publisher. MY PUBLISHER. Yeah, still not tired of saying that. Julie would also be acting as my editor. MY EDITOR. Not tired of that one, either.

Julie and I talked about the upcoming editing process (including the slightly unorthodox timeline caused by the ABNA rules), and she gave me an overview of what she liked best about Spookygirl, and what she felt needed work.

I’d been waiting for that feedback with a mix of excitement and dread. No one loves criticism, no matter how constructive it might be. Negative feedback can sting, especially when it’s about a project you’ve coaxed and cradled and worked on for years. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly.

. . . Only you know what? It’s not like that at all. Constructive criticism is indispensable, and learning to handle it is essential for anyone who wants to publish. It’s about your work, not you. There’s no need to take it personally.

Character sketch: Violet's pet poltergeist likes squeaky dog toys.

Besides, what I heard from Julie was overwhelmingly positive. Sure, some elements needed major tinkering – the resolution of the locker room storyline would shift four or five times over the next few months. Both the first and last scenes changed. We focused a little more on the paranormal investigation angle, and a little less on the more typical fish-out-of-water high school elements. I gained a Henry and lost a Sandy. Timmy became Tim (a change he’d no doubt appreciate).

Most importantly, Violet grew as a character. She became stronger and gained a new focus. I love that. I feel like every single revision strengthened her story, and that makes me incredibly happy.

Up next: What’s in a title?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Between Insanity and Eccentricity

Unless you're troubled by a little language (like my family that time I yelled at the neighbors after a hurricane because they'd set up their generator too near my window and I was tired of the fumes), this post over at Terrible Minds may amuse you: 25 Reasons that Writers are Bug-F*ck Nuts.

Authors have a lot of leeway when it comes to wacky behavior. Sometimes the only divider between insanity and eccentricity is a publishing contract, and I think I'm going to enjoy finally being over here on the eccentric side. Talking out loud to my characters is now a legitimate creative exercise instead of just another reason to consider medication. Sweet.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Take a Moment, Thank a Muse

I should really be blogging less and revising the new project more, but I can't let today go by without getting a little mushy about muses. It is, after all, Muse Appreciation Day, an international event founded by yours truly and celebrated by at least three other people in the world. Major stuff.

The original Muses, of course, were the goddesses in Greek mythology who inspired artistic creativity. However, I use the term in a broader sense.

Wherever your creative inspiration comes from, take a moment to acknowledge it today. Do your characters babble incessantly in your head, keeping you up at night until you put down their stories on paper?

Or maybe you define the idea of a muse on a more abstract level. If approached in certain ways, writing and other forms of creative expression can take on a spiritual aspect. When a story simply must be written, you'll feel it all the way through to your soul. Where do those ideas, those sparks come from?

However you define the idea of a muse, if you have one, thank it today. Give it a big metaphorical hug. Or an actual hug, if you prefer. Let it know how much you love it.

(And to my own muse: Happy 10th Muse-iversary, you big Irish brute. You're the best muse a writer-girl could ask for. Thank you for your patience; someday I'll show your story to the world.)

The Road to Publication: Part Three

[This is part 3 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.

The Seattle trip was fantastic – Thom Kephart of Amazon could not have done a better job keeping everything organized. My fellow finalists and I (along with our guests, and representatives from Amazon, CreateSpace, and Penguin) were treated to a fantastic dinner at the Purple Café and Wine Bar. And my mother and I – both total newbies to the city – had plenty of time for sightseeing and doing the whole tourist thing.

(Yes, we saw the Space Needle. No, we did not go up to the top.)

But you didn’t come to this blog for touristy stuff, right?

To be honest, my memory of the awards breakfast is somewhat of a blur. We were shuttled over to Amazon’s headquarters, where we mingled over breakfast for a little while. Well, we were supposed to mingle over breakfast. I was way too nervous even for coffee. I’m pretty sure all six of us were dying to hear the news no matter what it was.

Photo courtesy of Thom Kephart
The awards ceremony started with opening remarks from Thom. Then, one by one, each finalist was invited up to give a short speech and read an excerpt.

(Memo to future finalists: Feel free to be creative with the excerpt you read. Choose whatever bit of your manuscript you feel like sharing. I thought sticking with the beginning of my story would be safest, but once I realized most of the other finalists hadn’t done that, I wished I’d chosen differently. I would've loved to read a little of Violet's faux séance, or her interaction with the jocks and Dead Dirk.)

Then it was time for the winners to be announced. I seriously barely remember any of it; I heard my name, and I was given my award, and I shook hands with people, and I couldn’t stop smiling, and I tried my best not to pass out. Photos were taken. My contract was explained to me. I texted people and announced the news on Facebook.

I didn’t stop shaking for hours. I’m shaking again now, just from remembering.

I keep a mental list of my five best days ever. June 13, 2011 is at the top of the list now – better than sneaking onto the seaQuest set back in 1994, better than scaring Hugh Jackman with a My Little Pony. Best. Day. Ever.

Up next: So what happens after the contest?